Thursday, December 30, 2010

Small dangers

Some animals are so cute and little, you may think, how much trouble can they be? Here are some stories to remind you not to let down your guard in the new year.

-There goes the neighborhood:

England is stereotypically the sort of place where it's hard to be truly accepted into society if you weren't born there. The same seems to be true for animals. Rabbits were introduced a couple thousand years ago by the Romans, but they're still considered a non-native invasive species.

But maybe there'd be less prejudice against them if they were better citizens. A recent study says that in Britain, these zillionth-generation immigrants cost the economy more than £260m a year including damage to crops, businesses and infrastructure.

The Romans may not have realized what they were doing, but we didn't learn from their mistake. Humans can't seem to resist inviting adorable guests who end up overstaying their welcome. Gray squirrels were fashionable pets for the rich Englishpersons in the 19th century, an import from North America, but like all these trendy pets, people eventually get bored of them. A couple were released in 1876 and now their descendents cause £14m in damage and are driving the native, and cuter, red squirrel to extinction.

The 19th century British also repeated the Romans's error more exactly by introducing the rabbit to Australia, where it's gone on to devastate the native ecosystem. They also do another kind of damage there that is much more surprising:

Aviation wildlife strike statistics released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau show rabbits and hares accounted for 82 of the 257 reported plane collisions with animals between 2002 and 2009 - the highest for any non-winged creature.

The bureau said animal strikes were relatively rare but when they did occur they could result in severe damage.

-Think of the children:

And speaking of squirrels: why do we let these sex maniacs run around on the streets where innocent children can see them? The females of those cute red squirrels, for instance, will mate with a dozen males a day if they can, and they don't care if they're relatives - doing it with their own fathers or brothers is OK with them.

A recent study
tried to figure out the reason for this behavior. Did it evolve because it helped their reproductive success? Nope, scientists concluded: females will mate with as many males as they can for no reason except "because they're there."

-Second-hand smoke:

Even this blog has to admit that rats make excellent pets. They're personable and intelligent, and if you're easily bored, don't worry - they don't live too long.

But as with any pet, training is important: as one woman in England found after a fire in her apartment:

When Nelly Banks saw her rat’s cage burst into flames, she never expected to see her beloved pet again.

But she got quite a shock when the rascal rodent ran around on the floor – after sparking a full scale 999 alert.

Nelly’s pet – called No Name – stole a smouldering cigarette butt from her ashtray and took it to bed with him.

But the cigarette continued to smoulder, set fire to her cage and left her entire flat on Westminster Road, Morecambe, smoke-logged.

The 43-year-old has no idea how the rat made the miracle escape. She said: “He is a little pincher, he is always taking stuff and hiding it and this time he took one of my cigarettes and put it into his cage which is obviously flammable.

“He had beer cans and bits of paper and all sorts in there, so it did not take much to send it up."

So don't forget: if you're going to allow cute little furry animals into your home, teach them not to smoke in bed.

Cover of a classic horror story by Flickr user snigl3t.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Year-End Linkarama

First, make sure you didn't miss my post on the New Year's resolutions that you should be making. Go ahead. I'll wait.

OK. Now, in return for your promise not to enable bad animal behavior in 2011, I give you the gift of several links to people who are funnier about bad animals than I am:

-Hyperbole and a Half about how animals are ruining her life first thing in the morning (as in the illustration above) and while moving to a new home.

-The truth, told by an actual scientist, about why otters are not as cute as you think they are: Those Naughty Sea Otters

If you are thinking of pursuing a career with that sort of creature, be sure to also read So You Want To Be A Marine Biologist? on that excellent site. (Thanks for this to our friends at Southern Fried Science, without whom I would not have known of the amazing Dr. Love.)

-A story by science fiction writer John Scalzi, who knows that when we encounter alien animals, they're going to behave badly too: Alien Animal Encounters

If like me, you read that and wonder where this author has been all your life, read more here.

Hope those stories add something to your holiday season and if you want to return the favor and email me some bad animal tales, you know you can always click that "profile" link over on the right to find a contact link, right?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

An animal war on Christmas

In Aurora, Colorada, there's a man who understands the power of the holiday season to bring people together. Religion was no bar to Barry Miller's spectacular display of holiday lights:

"I'm Jewish, and growing up, I was always jealous of my neighbors who decorated their house for Christmas and of course my parents never let us do it, so now that I’m on my own, I take a lot of pride and try to make the house look as nice as I can."

But someone - or something - was trying to stop him. Three or four times each season, part of his display was disabled by cut wires. Was it a neighbor jealous of his professional-looking decorations? Or just a Grinch attacking an enthusiastic expression of the holiday spirit?

Finally, he'd had enough. Miller installed a motion detector camera and was excited when it caught the culprit in broad daylight. But there was a bit of a problem with his plan to call the police or embarrass the vandal online, as he saw when he viewed the video:

"It was a rabbit. It was kind of cute. He runs out, he looks both ways. The rabbit comes up, stands up, goes over to the lights, takes a bite and runs away."

But readers of this blog will be encouraged to hear that Miller is not one of those people who make excuses for bad animals. He's not taking this lying down:
"Now it's gonna be human versus rabbit," he said.

Story from KCVR and, and see video of the rabbit in the act at KABC.

Rabbit contemplating a possible Christmas fate by Flickr user hans s.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Doing it wrong, again

Last time we saw conservationists trying to prepare baby pandas for life in the wild by confusing them about the difference between a panda and a human in a costume.

Today we look at another case of humans trying to solve animal problems in a deranged fashion.

At the same time that we're driving wild animals to extinction, we're loving our own pets to death by overfeeding them. In one poll, vets said that 45% of their canine patients and 57% of the felines were overweight.

(And it's not just pets. Strangely, we're such a bad influence that some animals are getting fatter just by being nearby. A recent scientific study found that not only are average weights for lab animals going up, so are those of the feral animals like rodents roaming our streets.)

Of course, where there's a problem, there'll be an entrepeneur trying to make money solving it. Cats don't read diet books or join weight loss support groups, but in England, your cat won't have to worry if he gets too fat to fit through his cat door:

More Than pet insurance and TV vet Joe Inglis have teamed up to launch ‘Cat Flap of the Future,’ an extra large cat flap with sliding doors operated by a paw recognition system.

At 32cm by 35cm, the fat feline’s futuristic dream is twice the width of a regular cat flap.

And if you’re wondering how your overweight moggy will make it to the cat flap, you don’t need to worry on that front either.

The new invention also includes a cat conveyer belt to carry your feline friend from ground to flap level.

People: think about it. Your pet can't open the can or the cabinet on its own. You feed it with a measuring cup. If it's overweight, how about you try feeding it less?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Doing it wrong

Pandas: Don't get me started on pandas. Now, I actually agree that humans should feel guilty about driving so many species to extinction, and we should do something about it. But we have to pick our battles. Millions of dollars and years of research have been spent trying to get reluctant pandas to breed in captivity. How many more-cooperative species could have been saved with that expense and effort?

But pandas have the power to cloud minds, and people go to absurd lengths for them. In China, they've even gone as far as to show pandas porn to encourage them to mate. And the latest report is that keepers are now dressing up in panda suits to work with cubs that are going to be released into the wild.

They claim that it's important that the cubs not get used to the sight of humans. Which could well be correct, but for this solution to work, we have to assume that pandas cannot tell the difference between another panda and a human in a panda suit:

1. By how it looks

2. By how it smells

3. By how it behaves, for example:

-picking up panda cubs and carrying them around in plastic containers (see above)

-taking its head off:

And if all this is true, seriously, should we really be knocking ourselves out to save an animal that is that dumb?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Cartoon Advice Linkarama

If, despite faithfully reading this blog, you are still inclined to buy your cats a present for the holidays, consider the following important message from Cat Vs Human.

Also, I hope you've read my earlier post and resolved to stop encouraging bad animals in the new year. Even so, it can sometimes be hard to recognize the part we play by thoughtlessly rewarding bad behavior instead of good. Check out the brilliant illustration of this concept by The Oatmeal and perhaps it will stick in your mind. Be strong!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday Season Horror

Few animals can boast of a more positive reputation than reindeer. Sure, pandas have good publicity year-round. But it's hard to compete with an animal that has a gig like this one. It's a brilliant strategy: Get the kid when he's way too young to have any critical thinking skills and can be fooled into believing that quadrupeds without wings can fly. Then make up a story that they're critical to the delivery of those precious holiday presents. So even when he doesn't believe in Santa anymore, he's left with a warm fuzzy feeling about these animals for the rest of his life.

So you might think the only danger associated with these deer is that they have an inside track to letting Santa know that you've been naughty. But a woman in Scotland who had a narrow escape can tell you differently.

As reported by The Telegraph, she was taking a hike in the area where Britain's only reindeer herd lives, a tourist attraction introduced in the 1950s, when a buck knocked her on her back:

"One of my walking poles was thrown into the air. The reindeer kept trying to stick its antlers into me but I managed to brace my feet on them.

"I began bashing it over the head with my other walking pole. Its antlers were pretty big and it had one sticking straight out in front.

"I couldn't believe what was happening, and I was aware that I was running out of strength. I was shouting for help but there was no-one there.

"I couldn't keep it at bay any longer and collapsed in a heap with my rucksack protecting my back. I tried to get up with my back to the reindeer but it got an antler under the strap of my rucksack and pulled me over backwards.

"It was behind me and its antlers were sticking forward either side of me. I grabbed them to try and avoid getting stabbed and it started to bump me along the ground. Eventually, I fell and landed in a heap."

She said she realised that if she lay still it stopped attacking but she was knocked over again as she tried to make her way downhill and only reached safety when she managed to climb over a fence.

By then she had walked more than two miles and descended 1,200ft while throwing parts of her packed lunch to distract the reindeer.

So if you still believe in leaving cookies and milk out for Santa, don't forget to leave something for his draft animals as well - you may get a lot worse than coal in your stocking if you get them mad at you.

(And also watch out for pugs forced to dress as Santa's crew who are mad enough about it to bite you.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Animals vs. Hipsters

Coming up for air after spending the last month or so in a push to meet my book deadline, even I am a bit shocked at what animals have been getting away with when they think my attention is diverted.

I don't blame them for upping their efforts. They only have till next fall before the lid is blown off their activities in a full length expose by a major New York publisher. They should, after all, be quaking in their paws.

In the meantime, unfortunately, clueless humans are continuing to both enable and be surprised by their bad behavior, like the urban beekeepers in Brooklyn who were astonished to find that their bees were producing honey that was bright red instead of amber.

Another strange new bee disease? No: it's simply that if you're going to bring bees into the city, of course they're going to take advantage of urban amenities.

We've already seen that bees love alcohol even more than college students do. Scientists have also found that given the choice, bees prefer nectar that is spiked with caffeine and nicotine. And we know that animals can become junk food junkies.

So readers of this blog won't be surprised at the solution to the Mystery of the Red Honey in Red Hook: apparently the bees have been dining on the syrup at a local maraschino cherry factory.

Of course, naive nature-lovers who don't read this blog were incredulous, as reported by the New York Times:

“I didn’t want to believe it,” said Ms. Mayo, a soft-spoken young woman who has long been active in the slow-food movement. She found it particularly hard to believe that the bees would travel all the way from Governors Island to gorge themselves on junk food. “Why would they go to the cherry factory,” she said, “when there’s a lot for them to forage right there on the farm?”

I guess you have to expect this kind of delusional thinking from someone who not only has the usual ignorance about the real nature of animals, but is also an advocate of "slow food." But seriously, get real. How many hungry humans are digging up dandelion roots in Prospect Park instead of making reservations at one of Brooklyn's many fine dining establishments - or grabbing a Twinkie at the corner bodega? Why do you expect bees to work any harder?

Coney Island bees by Flickr user mercurialn.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Stand up against animal disinformation in the New Year

While not usually a fan of rushing the holiday season, this blog has been convinced by the suggestion of the great and admirable The Rejectionist that December is a good time to give New Year's resolutions a test run.

This is particularly true in the case of animal-related resolutions, which can be sorely tested by the holiday gift-buying season.

Of course, if you read this blog, you already recognize that you have a problem. You're a member of the precious minority that understands that animals aren't as cute as they want you to think.

But that's only the beginning. Now you need to make a commitment to being part of the solution.

It's not enough to simply forward links to this blog to everyone you know, although of course that is a vital first step. You also need to make sure you're not helping the enemy by inadvertently participating in its propaganda campaign.

So, make these three simple promises and stop helping animals pull the wool, fur, feathers and scales over our eyes.

1. I will not click on headlines like the following:

Faithful dog waits for owner near Shanghai fire without eating

Horses never forget human friends

Bonobo is excellent babysitter

or anything involving a panda.

2. I will not buy books like these:

Am I Boring my Dog?

Zooborns: The newest, cutest animals from the world's zoos and aquariums!

And I will especially not buy indoctrination materials for impressionable children like:

The latter book's shameless edition for young people, ZooBorns!: Zoo Babies from Around the World

And Tango Makes Three, a classic attempt to warp young minds that this blog deconstructes here.

3. And finally, when I hear of stories like this one:

Porpoises rescue Dick Van Dyke

I will remind everyone: We never hear from the people who the dolphins push AWAY from shore.

(It should go without saying that you will definitely not buy Obey the Pug merchandise here.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

What evil lurks beneath that placid bovine exterior?

The Guardian - Raging cow goes on hour-long rampage

Police had to catch an unusual suspect on the run after a cow broke out of its field, charging through fences of three back gardens before it was finally cornered.

Nottinghamshire police said it was "extremely lucky" nobody was injured after the cow escaped from a field in Bassingfield yesterday and went on an hour-long rampage.

The animal broke through an electric fence at about 12.30pm and got on to the A52, heading towards West Bridgford, police said.

Officers tried to corner the cow but it charged at them, causing one to "take evasive action" to avoid injury.

It then smashed through fences behind three properties in Eltham Road where it was finally cornered and calmed down by police and put into a trailer by the farmer at about 1.35pm.

The Daily Mail quoted the woman who came face to face with the bovine in the photo above:

'I was in my kitchen when I spotted this thing crashing through my garden fence.

'It came right up to the kitchen window and was breathing on the glass. I was scared as I thought it was going to smash its way into the house - you could tell it was really angry.'

A cow running loose may seem like a joke, but don't be too quick to laugh. A report by the Centers for Disease Control indicates that cattle cause about twenty deaths a year in the United States. And their in-depth look at a few of these contains some alarming details:

- In about 3/4 of the cases "the animal was deemed to have purposefully struck the victim."

- One of the murderous bulls had been hand-raised and bottle-fed by the victim and his family.

- And finally, watch your back: in at least one case, the victim was attacked from behind.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey day video roundup

It's hard to get worked up about the fact that the president pardoned another turkey this year when most of them never get convicted in the first place. What's one more offender running loose? If you're feeling bad about the bird in your oven, re-read our previous posts to remind yourself that they'd do the same to us if they had the chance. And check out just a few examples of the video evidence:

A turkey attacks a man on a motorcycle;

A mailman in Michigan has to carry a weapon to fend off gangs of attacking turkeys;

And don't expect your dogs to keep you safe even if you have big scary pitbulls.

The truth about birds, illustrated, from Toothpaste for Dinner.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Behind the mask

In a town near San Francisco, residents are discovering why raccoons wear masks: it's to conceal their identity when they commit violent assaults.

Nine people in Alameda have been the victims of raccoon attacks since June. These incidents are escalating, with the most recent involving an entire gang.

One raccoon approached Rachel Campos as she was walking her dog, and then:

“The other four dropped out of these trees somewhere and all started to run after us,” said Campos. “And then I tripped. Once I fell down, I was worried I wouldn't be able to get them off me, and I was screaming at the top of my lungs.”

Her 20-pound terrier fended off four of the attackers, but the fifth latched onto her leg and bit her.

You may think furry, tubby raccoons are cute, but as a local "vector control" officer with twenty years experience said, "Raccoons are ornery. They bite the heads off baby chicks."

And another experienced biologist and pest control expert says that raccoons have gotten dogs into swimming pools and drowned them: "They grab them by the head and hold them under water. Not just little dogs — Labrador size."

Some blame the problem on people who leave food where raccoons can get it, but not all of these animals are eating out of carelessly uncovered trash cans. One resident says, “We've had them climbing in through our doggie door and rummaging through things in the kitchen.”

For her part, Campos is undergoing rabies shots, and will carry pepper spray on walks from now on. Although the risk of rabies in Californian raccoons is low, it's the psychological damage that will take time to heal.

“It was definitely like something out of a horror movie,” she said, and she hopes her experience will serve as a warning: "The animals are getting angry."

Reporting from the LA Times and; raccoon with the demon eyes by Flickr user buckeye98.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Deadline Linkarama

While I am busy rewriting every sentence in this book manuscript which is due in less than two weeks, I swear, every single goddamn sentence, please enjoy a few videos:

-Hyperbole and a Half shows why cats and children do not mix (advisory: loud dramatic soundtrack)

-If you still don't believe you should fear cats: Cat vs. alligator. (Spoiler: the cat wins.)

-And wrap up two weeks of cats with an instructional video on how to wrap a cat for Christmas. That'll show it who's in charge, right? (thanks to our friends at Monkey Goggles.)

Intellectual Monkey by Flickr user Woodenship.

Monday, November 15, 2010

When cats go postal, part 3: Taking action

Last week, this blog's hard-hitting investigative journalism blew the lid off of the secret epidemic of cats attacking the mailman. As is so often the case, we found that the animals weren't the only issue: Rather than reacting appropriately to this feline violence, many owners simply refuse to admit there is a problem.

Fortunately, a few attack-cat owners are better role models. Dipity's owner took the news with resignation when she got a letter threatening to suspend her delivery service. She was surprised - "You hear about guard dogs injuring postmen all the time - but not cats," she said - but could not deny the truth:
I can't say I blame them for threatening to cut me off. I love Dipity to bits - she's adorable - but I'd be the first to admit she's a little terror. All she wants to do is pick fights. When I took her to be neutered she tried to gouge lumps out of the vet and was hissing at all the dogs.

But if you really want to see how this sort of thing should be done, there's the owner of Blackie, a cat who counted at least five postmen, one police officer, five paper boys, one takeaway driver and one construction worker as his victims. After one gory attack on a mailman, she finally took responsibility:

At the door to Ann Hogben's home in Ramsgate, Kent, is a newly erected sign which simply reads: "Warning: Dangerous Cat - Has attacked 13 people in the last six years."

The turning point came in the last few weeks when Blackie attacked a postman as he pushed envelopes through her letter box. Unaware of what lurked behind the door his latest victim was left with a series of open wounds.

"I came home and Blackie was sitting there like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, but I knew something was wrong because he had blood on his claws."

Ms. Hogben insists that with her, Blackie is as cuddly as can be, but she acknowledges that he has "problems with people in uniform" and "authority issues."

She's not just posting the warning sign and expecting people to defend themselves, either: from that point on, she promised, she'd be locking Blackie in another room whenever there is a knock at the door. I feel we have to ask the owners of Boo and Magic and Georgi and all the others: Is that so hard?

Don't mess with the cat on the mailbox in that photo by Flickr user cindy47452.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

When cats attack, part 2: Felines go postal

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night keep the mailman from his duty. But, in England at least, claws are a different matter.

As we saw on Monday, two stories this year of cats attacking postmen got this blog's bad-animal-sense twitching. Was this just the tip of a feline iceberg?

In fact, fairly cursory research revealed that these stories crop up quite regularly, and the cats are not the only problem: it's also their owners.

-In August 2002, a carrier attacked by cats called Boo Boo and Yogi told a dramatic story:

"I put up with it the first couple of times, but the last scratch was quite deep. Blood was dripping on to the driveway and over other letters in my bag. After the attack the cat jumped up on the window sill and looked out at me as if to say 'got you that time'."

The owner, as in our previous cases, was disbelieving:

Mr Davies said: "I can't understand the attacks. They are both really well behaved cats but are very playful."

Perhaps, in another instance of us being two countries divided by a common language, the Brits use the word "playful" to mean "bloodthirsty"? (It would explain a lot about their soccer culture, I suppose.)

- In May 2004, a family had to install a mailbox at their front gate because the attacks of their cat Bat meant that postmen were at risk approaching the door.

The Coyne family realised they had a problem with their territorial pet when an official letter from the Royal Mail arrived complaining about their "guard cat".

It said the postman had been scratched and "more incredible than this, your cat has been known to jump onto the postman's leg and dig its claws in".

-In December 2007, Georgi left a postman bleeding after scratching his hands as he put letters through the door. Her owner, typically, denied any malicious intent: "I think she only wants the letters but obviously she must just accidentally catch his fingers."

-In June 2009, another owner poo-pooed the threat when he got a letter threatening suspension of delivery:

Mr Ridge said friends and neighbours thought the threat was laughable and he plans to ignore the letter.

"We were not around when this happened, but it seems some mail was put through the letterbox and their hand was scratched.

"Illy is only a kitten and I am sure she was just playing."

Mr Ridge, who runs a fruit and veg business, added: "Everyone finds it so amusing that our playful kitten has been mistaken for some savage beast."

- In October 2009, the owners of Magic got that same letter after he dashed out his cat door and attacked the carrier three days in a row. The head of delivery services had to bravely come to their house to deliver the news as well, because, of course, they couldn't see the problem:

"I told them my cat wouldn't hurt a fly... He's a soft cat. We've never seen him attack someone and we've never heard of him hurting anyone before. I can't believe they are saying this."

As these stories show, cat attacks on the mail are not only a regular occurrence, the problem is compounded by the owners, who react with either disbelief and laughter.

But as a postal spokesperson said in the case of Bat:"The safety of our people is paramount and attacks by animals are not amusing when you're at the receiving end."

Fortunately, some attack-cat owners are better role models. We'll turn to those encouraging stories on Monday.

Monday, November 8, 2010

When cats attack.... part 1

Cats appear strangely infrequently on this blog. Given how many of them there are and how closely they live with us, you'd expect to see reports of their misbehavior frequently. Is it possible that they're actually a creature that's less troublesome than average?

Recently two different stories of feline misbehavior came to this blog's attention and started a train of thought that suggests otherwise.

In the first, in New Zealand, a cat actually managed to delay train service, a pretty impressive accomplishment for a small animal:
New Zealand railway officials said a train was delayed for half an hour due to injuries the driver sustained from a confrontation with a stowaway cat....

The cat is believed to have hopped aboard the train at the Wairarapa station and was discovered when the train stopped at Wellington station.

The train driver attempted to catch the feline in a box but wound up with scratches that required bandages. The train was delayed while a replacement driver was located.

In the second, in England, a family has been threatened with loss of mail delivery service because their cat scratched the postman.

The home has a mail slot through the door, about six inches from the ground, the perfect height for a cat entertainment device, if by "entertainment" you mean sticking your claws out and slashing at anything that comes near.

The owners poo-pooed the risk posed by their the cat Lana, who their children playfully call Lana Banana. "She's really docile, I can pick her up like a baby and she won't bat an eyelid," said their mother, and insisted that the cat had just been "playful" when it swiped at the mail carrier's hand as he was pushing mail through the slot.

Now, you may laugh at this story. After all, it's funny because this never happens - isn't it dogs that are supposed to attack the postman?

Well, not so fast. Back in the spring, this blog made brief mention of another English cat whose behavior actually did result in mail delivery being stopped to his owners' residence.

Tiger's owner also poo-pooed the authorities' excessive reaction to reports that he attacked mail carriers as they approached the door and chased them down the path. "Tiger is 19 years old, he dribbles when he sleeps and snores - he sleeps for 20 hours a day," she scoffed.

One case of a cat attacking a mailman, fine, but two? In fact, in the story of Lana, a Royal Mail spokesman was quoted as follows: "Unfortunately, animal attacks are a hazard faced by our employees and we record around 5,000 animal attacks a year on our postmen and women."

It was clearly time for this blog to research this situation further. Come back on Thursday to see what we dug up on this previously unnoticed feline menace.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Monkey madness news roundup

-President Obama is scheduled to visit India next week. Whereever a world leader goes there are security issues, but in India, humans are not the only primate that are a potential problem. The Telegraph reports:

Delhi's police are to build 30-feet towers in jungle surrounding President Obama's hotel to protect him from terrorist attacks during next week's visit, and also shield from an invasion by the city's most persistent threat – monkeys.

They have been asked to erect 'machan' towers for elite commandos who will use powerful searchlights and night-sight binoculars to lookout for suspicious movement and any signs of a simian invasion.

Alongside heavily armed antiterrorist commandos, trained monkey-catchers will also be deployed.

- There's no mention of another monkey control method sometimes used in India, and perhaps for good reason. At the Commonwealth Games earlier this fall, a squad of trained anti-monkey monkeys was deployed. But apparently hiring standards are not rigorous enough to screen out thugs who abuse their power: One tried to steal a BBC reporter's phone, sending him to the hospital for treatment of a wound and rabies and tetanus shots. And they're no more reliable with the locals: recently in one neighborhood, the langur monkey brought in to protect people from monkey attacks didn't exactly solve the problem when it bit one of the residents.

-Elsewhere, a repeat offender is caught in Croatia:

This Macaque ape made a monkey of zoo security when he was caught slipping out of his cage to raid local gardens for tasty snacks.

Keen veg grower Zdenek Lounovi, 70, could barely believe his eyes when he looked down his back lawn and saw the beast munching on his rhubarb and turnips.

...Keepers at nearby Olomouc Zoo admitted the ape was theirs and set up a hidden camera in his enclosure to check how he had been getting out.

"He was pretty sneaky. He'd pulled part of his fence away and covered the hole with a board so he could come and go as he pleased."

- And finally, the photo above was taken by a tourist as he was being insulted by a mandrill called Jackson at the San Francisco Zoo. Zoo authorities explained that the monkey did not mean to be rude, that the gesture was merely the result of "a form of arthritis."

Yeah, sure.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The REAL bear problem

So word has it that people in Germany are in a tizzy about the dating problems of Knut, the former cute polar cub who was hand-reared and became world famous. The Telegraph reports, kindly translating the German news for us:

"Knut, the public's favourite, has become a heap of misery," said Germany's mass-selling daily Bild. "Instead of enjoying himself with the three ladies, he cowers fearfully in a corner," added the more staid Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Hopes that Knut might form a romantic attachment with one of the females appear to have been dashed as stories emerged of violent maulings.

One video posted online showed Katjuscha hurling herself at Knut's throat, in an apparent attempt to bite him, before tipping him into the water.

"These sad images of Knut are pulling the heartstrings of people around the world," said Bild.

Knut's keeper sensibly downplays this nonsense, saying "it was only two minutes in the life of a bear."

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Knut is having lady problems. It was earlier reported that he appeared to be "relieved" that a potential girlfriend brought all the way from Italy had been sent home.

And in fact, a couple of years ago, one zoologist warned that due to his hand-reared background, Knut would never successfully mate, saying the bear had "become addicted to human beings" and describing him as a "psychopath".

But why on earth are people concerned about this bear's relationship issues in the first place? Bears don't worry about your love life. These are animals that will mug a man in his own driveway for a hero sandwich, break into our homes and steal our pizza, and are close to learning how to steal our cars.

And while maybe a bear attacking a hunter can claim self defense - perhaps even if it chases him up into a tree - bears will also go after campers sleeping innocently in their tents and one recently attacked a Washington state man who was just walking his dog:

Bellevue City Councilman John Chelminiak says one of the things he remembers most vividly about the bear attack that left him with critical injuries was when the animal went for his head.

"Being bitten... and the sound that that makes as her teeth were going into my head and running along the skull," Chelminiak during his first interview since the Sept. 17 attack. "It was just a horrendous fight."

Chelminiak lost his left eye, and calls it a miracle that doctors were able to piece him back together.

Bear attacks are also on the rise in Japan, and you're not even safe when you're already dead: in Russia, bears have started looking for food in human graveyards.

Masha Vorontsova, Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), admits it's not due to any critical food shortage or anything, either:
"In Karelia one bear learned how to do it [open a coffin]. He then taught the others," she added, suggesting: "They are pretty quick learners."

According to Vorontsova, the omnivorous bears had "plenty to eat" this autumn, with foods such as fish and ants at normal levels. The bears raided graveyards because they offered a supply of easy food, she said, a bit like a giant refrigerator.

Even Ms Vorontsova, whose job no doubt requires her to be a defender of bears, is unable to stomach her rationalization, though, and she adds, "The story is horrible. Nobody wants to think about having a much loved member of their family eaten by a bear."

Lovely. So, anyway, I think I'll pass on worrying about the romantic problems of bears, and I suggest you do the same.

Photo from Flickr user foxgrrl to remind us that ALL advice from bears is bad advice.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Amazing animal abilities... not so much

Homing pigeons are astonishing animals. Despite the poor reputation of urban pigeons in modern times, pigeons have long been of service to humanity, for many centuries delivering messages faster than any available technology. During the two World Wars, pigeons were even awarded medals for their service carrying critical military information.

More recently, they've been used to protest the poor quality of internet access in rural communities: in a demonstration in England, ten pigeons carring USB sticks reached their destination in ninety minutes, beating out a video download started at the moment of their release that had only managed to process 24% of a 300MB file.

All of these uses harness the pigeon's remarkable natural ability to find their way to their home roost from any location. Racing pigeons, driven in closed trucks for several hundred miles to a place they've never been, will unerringly find their way home, flying at speeds of 40 to 60 miles per hour.

Or... not.

A bird named Houdini was released for her first race, an easy 200 miles from Guernsey to Dudley in the West Midlands of England that should have taken only six hours. When she didn't arrive, her owner assumed she'd met with foul play and that he'd never hear of her again.

Over a month later he got a phone call from Gustavo Ortiz, who'd tracked him down using the information on the bird's leg band. The call was from a rather surprising location, as the owner explained to the Daily Mirror:

"I was gobsmacked. I didn't even know where Panama was."
"I've no idea how Houdini got there - I can only assume she hitched a lift on a ship across the Atlantic. They must have fed her on the boat because she's in perfect shape judging by the pictures Gustavo emailed me."

Did Houdini really get that drastically lost, sullying the proud reputation of her species for navigation? Or had she flown the coop deliberately, hitching a lift to a better climate? Either way, it's too expensive to ship her back, so she'll be staying in her new country - well, at least for now, till she gets lost or takes a notion to hitch a ride again.

World's first airmail stamp from the Great Barrier Island Pigeon-Gram Service from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Humans behaving stupidly

In many of the stories on this blog, beneath an obvious tale of an animal behaving badly, there is a subtext: humans behaving stupidly about animals. Once in a while, it's only fair to bring that subtext to the fore.

In England, a woman feeding white bread to ducks in a part was chastised for not jumping on the whole foods bandwagon:

"Then a man in a fluorescent waistcoat who was holding a litter pick-up stick came over to me and said 'I know you mean well but giving them white bread is not good for them.'

“He said next time if I brought wholemeal, granary or bird seed that would be better for them.”

Elsewhere in England, police cleared the area and called for assistance when they saw a cobra coiled around the handlebars of a bicycle. As the snake expert who responded told the tale:
"I grabbed all the kit I would need to protect myself from a venomous snake, including a snake hook and my snake stick, which I need to grab snakes to stop them biting."

But when he arrived at the scene on Sunday lunchtime, the red-faced officers revealed it was a rubber toy.

A happy ending for all there, but in the Congo, herpetological ignorance and overreaction turned to tragedy when a crocodile escaped from a passenger's luggage:

The croc had been hidden in a passenger's sports bag - allegedly with plans to sell it - but it tore loose and ran amok, sparking panic.

A stampede of terrified passengers caused the small aircraft to lose balance and tip over in mid-air during an internal flight in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The unbalanced load caused the aircraft, on a routine flight from the capital, Kinshasa, to the regional airport at Bandundu, to go into a spin and crash into a house.

A lone survivor from the Let 410 plane told the astonishing tale to investigators.

Ironically the crocodile also survived the crash but was later killed with a machete by rescuers sifting through the wreckage.

Speaking as a former reptile-keeping professional, if you're ever in this situation, my advice: A crocodile that can fit in someone's hand luggage is WAY less likely to kill you than a plane crash. Please remain seated.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why chimps should not be pets

There are many intolerable behaviors that we regularly excuse in our companion animals. But I for one draw the line at insolence to our most long-suffering public servants:
A 300-pound chimpanzee escaped from its owner Tuesday afternoon and ran rampant through a Kansas City neighborhood, scaring walkers, pounding on passing cars and breaking a police car’s windshield.

The 21-year-old ape, named Sueko, also pointed and laughed at residents and flipped off an animal control officer near 78th Street and Indiana Avenue, witnesses said.

Read more and watch the video at the Kansas City Star.

Rude chimp by Flickr user Gerry Clement.

Monday, October 18, 2010

This is your mind on bad animals

Dearest readers, perhaps writing this blog, being constantly steeped in the lowest lows of animal behavior, has made me into a bad person. But all I can add to the following story from Florida is: LOL.

A horrified 8-year-old boy watched as an alligator ate the pet turtle he'd just donated to a Panhandle aquarium.

Brenda Guthrie and her 8-year-old son Colton witnessed Tomalina’s death as the red-eared slider disappeared into the alligator’s jaws at the Gulfarium. When the two looked away from the sight, she said they could hear the crunching of the turtle’s shell.

“He was jumping up and down screaming,” Guthrie said of her son’s reaction. “He was shouting, ‘Oh no alligator, let it go.’”

Guthrie said that they decided to donate Tomalina after the turtle outgrew its aquarium. They chose the Gulfarium so that Colton could come back and visit the turtle.

They brought it there Thursday afternoon and watched as workers put the slider into the alligator exhibit, where two other red-eared sliders already live.

Gulfarium officials said that the alligator, Gracie, had just been hand-fed and that the gators normally don’t express interest in the turtles.

“It’s horrible for a little kid to have to see that,” said General Manager Don Abrams. “That’s not unusual to put sliders in the same exhibit. (The alligators) have never eaten a turtle in the exhibit before.

“It’s just Murphy’s law that nature would take over right then,” he added.

Photo of alligator behaving naturally by Flickr user otzberg.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Heroic humans

The animals in our last post may be terrible role models, but recently some average people have showed us what it means to take a stand against bad animals, bravely leaping into action with nothing but their normal household surroundings to depend on.

In Japan, a couple of citizens took the monkey attack situation into their own hands, and caught the culprit that is believed to have bitten over 100 people.

Municipal government officials said the monkey was spotted on the second-floor balcony of the home of 33-year-old resident Yuki Yoneyama at about 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. His 36-year-old wife opened the window to their children's room, and when the money went inside, Yoneyama shut it from the outside, trapping the animal.

The monkey scampered into a closet, but municipal government workers and police who arrived at the home used a tear-inducing spray to drive it out, and captured it with a net at about 1:30 p.m.

And in Montana, a woman tried to defend her elderly dog from a bear by kicking it. That didn't work, and it next tried to break into her house, but fortunately, she had a weapon to hand:

"She kicked the bear with her left leg as hard as she could, and she said she felt like she caught it pretty solidly under the chin," Maricelli said.

But as she kicked, the bruin swiped at her leg with its paw and ripped her jeans.

The bear then turned its full attention to the woman in the doorway. She retreated into the house and tried to close the door, but the bear stuck its head and part of a shoulder through the doorway.

The woman held onto the door with her right hand. With her left, she reached behind and grabbed a 14-inch zucchini that she had picked from her garden earlier and was sitting on the kitchen counter, Maricelli said.

She threw the vegetable. It bopped the bruin on the top of its head and the animal fled, Maricelli said.

Authorities are looking for the bear; reports say they'll use DNA from the zucchini to confirm its identity.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bad influences

It's been far too long since we called attention to substance abuse in the animal kingdom. Setting a particularly bad example is a chimp in China with a smoking habit. Yes, he died recently, but:

Zoo spokesman Qondile Khedama said Charlie had become an institution, entertaining thousands of visitors every year with his antics.

For years, zookeepers had been trying to get the chimp to kick the habit, and they discouraged visitors from giving him cigarettes.

But Mr Khedama said he did not believe the addiction had ended Charlie's life prematurely, as he had lived around 10 years longer than the average chimp.

And in Austria, some zoo rhinos were directly responsible for enabling one man's drug habit:
An Austrian zoo has fired a zookeeper after discovering that he had been secretly growing a cannabis plantation in the rhinoceros enclosure he was in charge of. It was a clever scheme because the 59-year-old man had exclusive access to the enclosure at Salzburg Zoo, and the presence of the notoriously irritable one-ton beasts was likely to deter the curious.

But perhaps the most disturbing case reported recently is that of a deer at a resort in China. A few months ago, a waitress offered the animal a taste of some beer, and it was the first step on a descent into alcoholism:
Since then, says Zhang, whenever there is any leftover beer she takes it to feed to the deer.

"It has a growing addiction to beer. To begin with it was half a bottle but now it is several big bottles in a row. Her daily feed is around two bottles of beer."

Zhang adds: "I don't know what her maximum appetite for beers is though we once tried giving her four bottles of beer and she drank them all."

Elsewhere the restaurant's chef is quoted:
"It drinks beer quite often. It does not drink water any more, it only drinks beer."

Some say that drug abusers hurt only themselves, but when people foolishly believe that animals are cute and noble, we run the risk of their behavior being used as a role model, especially by innocent youth. What are our children to think when they see Bambi guzzling beer?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bad bird, murder and family dysfunction

Where's the fellow feeling among birds? They clearly feel no need to be nicer to other birds than to anyone else. A couple of weeks ago we saw a seagull that dropped a budgie onto the head of a pedestrian. That's nothing compared to the rampages of a swan nicknamed "Hannibal," who has killed at least fifteen other swans to defend his territory in a pond in Wales.

You'd think just beating intruders up and driving them away would be enough, but Hannibal not only takes it as far as murder - he even involves the wife and children, as a local volunteer rescuer reports:

"He holds their heads under the water until they drown or he beats them to a pulp with his wings.

"Mrs Hannibal blocks off the escape routes while he attacks them and then they take the baby to view the kill while mum and dad do a triumphant, wings-up, celebration."

The wildlife rescuer has applied for a permit to remove Hannibal from the pond, but she may be part of the problem. Despite that fact that she is caring for three victims that managed to escape this monster, she is not advocating his immediate destruction - she's open to the possibility that he can be rehabilitated:

"He will be here until we can determine if he has a solvable problem. If it is treatable he will be relocated, perhaps to a private lake."

Don't mess with that swan by Flickr user pigpogm.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Shocking scientific standards

Last week, we saw that children's books - even when based on a "true" story - can't be trusted to provide our youth with the truth about animals. Today, we find the same lack of context in a branch of literature that ought to be more reliable.

This blog was was initially thrilled at the news that an Ig Nobel Prize was awarded to the researchers who discovered that fruit bats have oral sex and copulate at the same time, which we reported on here. Finally, we thought, this sort of thing is getting the publicity it deserves.

However, our pleasure immediately turned to disappointment when we read one of the scientists, Gareth Jones, quoted in the eminent Guardian as saying:

"It is the first documented case of fellatio by adult animals other than humans to my knowledge."

This scientist has clearly not done his homework. Never mind combing the periodical indexes - with little effort, he could have simply read the book mentioned in our last post. Biological Exuberance by Bruce Bagemihl, in the course of seven hundred pages worth of evidence for homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom, also documents many other sorts of, to put it somewhat tastefully, "non-procreative" sexual interactions.

Consulting the index of this tome, under "oral stimulation (heterosexual)," there are entries for twenty different kinds of animals, and under "(homosexual)", twenty-five.

In fact, this act has been documented in all sorts of creatures, including but not limited to primates, cheetahs, hedgehogs, and various fruit bats. Not only don't some care what sex their partner is - for example, in walruses and manatees, pairs of males do it together - also, some don't even care what species - caribou and moose do it to each other.

Bagemihl's book was published in 1999, and it seems likely that in the last ten years, many other naturalists have observed such behavior. I'd go check some journal indexes if I wasn't feeling kind of sick to my stomach already (do you have any idea what it is like to read seven hundred pages of this sort of thing?). But this is exactly what our much better paid, fruit-bat-voyeur scientist friends should have done before making public claims about discovering a first.

When a respectable academic makes a claim "to my knowledge," we expect better that this. How are we going to make progress in exposing bad animal behavior if scientists do their background research so poorly?

Full frontal fruitbat by Flickr user hanifridz.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The truth about penguins

Continuing our recognition of Banned Books Week, we consider a particular favorite of banners, the picture book And Tango Makes Three, about a gay penguin couple that raises an adopted chick.

As I've mentioned before on this occasion, the usual objection to this book is that it is a positive portrayal of homosexuality. But the real objection should be that it is a positive portrayal of penguin family life.

The fairy-tale relationship between the adults portrayed in "Tango" bears little resemblance to reality. Divorce rates in various species of penguins are close to fifty percent, and promiscuous behavior is rampant. In one species, one-third to one-half of heterosexual activity is adulterous, and nearly half of the gay sex involves married men getting it on the side. And in case that's not enough, they also pleasure themselves by using tufts of grass as sex aids.

We've seen before on this blog that penguin family life is less idyllic than the heartwarming situation depicted in this book. We've noted research that shows that penguins won't work harder to help a handicapped spouse; we've also seen the story of a female penguin that broke up a gay couple that had raised a chick together - just like the one in the book.

There is no excuse for banning books, but still, there are some things that impressionable children should not be exposed to. If they read propaganda like this, they're going to grow up to have the same unrealistic notions about animals as today's adults: that dolphins are mystical geniuses instead of gang rapists and cross-species sexual harassers and more; that lions are noble royalty instead of lazy babykillers; and perhaps most dangerous of all, that dogs are our best friends.

We owe the youth of America better than this. We owe them the truth, and this blog will continue to provide it.

Penguin facts thanks to Biological Exuberance by Bruce Bagemihl; penguin photo by friend of the blog MisterQueue.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned Thoughts about Bad Behavior

In honor of Banned Books Week, today we consider a book about animals that could never be published today.

Sadly, this book would probably never get to the point of being banned. It would never get written, due to the self-censorship or self-delusion practiced by most writers about animals nowadays.

Who's Who in the Zoo: A Natural History of Mammals was produced by the WPA Federal Writers' Project in New York and published in 1942.

The writers were unconstrained by modern notions of political correctness. Happily informing us which animals are used for their fur, desired by big-game hunters for trophies, and good to eat, this book also advises that all sorts of wildlife make suitable pets, including marmosets, coatis, skunks and raccoons.

The authors also have no qualms about insulting animals where it's called for and revealing unpleasant truths about animal behavior. Here are just a few instructive excerpts:

Other species of South American monkeys are less surly in captivity than the Howler.

When a Marmoset is mischievous a slap will not cause it to behave, but it quickly obeys when its ears are pinched or bitten.

Domesticated (Indian) elephants are used to capture the wild ones. Two tame elephants will squeeze a wild one between them, holding until their masters have bound its legs with chains.

The Babirusa is one of the ugliest of the wild swine.

The Guanaco is so stupid that the native Patagonian Indians are able to surround the herds and club many of their members to death.

The mother (Tiger) rarely deserts the young in infancy, unless hard pressed. But she has been known to eat her kittens when food was scarce.

The Camel is known to have served man for the last 5000 years, but despite long domestication it has a very ugly disposition and is not attached to its master.

One also has to admire their skill at getting in a dig at large groups of animals while weakly complimenting one of them, as exemplified by this remark about the capybara:

Largest of all living rodents, the Capybaras are the least obnoxious

It's sad that so few of us are carrying on this noble tradition of honesty and devotion to the truth. This blog, at least, promises to continue to uphold it.

Babirusa by Flickr user cactusbeetroot.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bad birds

-In Britain, a bird gets in a 2-for-1 deal, being bad both to a fellow bird and to a totally innocent human: A seagull caught an escaped pet parakeet, and then dropped it on the head of a unsuspecting pedestrian:

‘It was just the last thing you’d expect when you’re walking along eating a pack of chips. I felt something scrape my head then saw it bounce off and hit a shop window. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it was a budgie."

-And in Columbia, a parrot has been taken into custody by police as part of a conspiracy to sell drugs:

According to environmental authorities, Lorenzo the parrot was trying to tip-off a local drug cartel when officers conducted an undercover raid.

"This parrot was sending out alerts," said Environmental Police Officer Hollman Oliveira. "You could say he was some sort of watch bird."

Lorenzo caused quite the stir as he was presented to journalists. The well-trained creature even showed off his look out skills as he yelled out: "Run, run you are going to get caught."

Perhaps the most shocking part of this news is that Lorenzo is merely the tip of a pstittacine criminal iceberg: authorities claimed to have seized over 1700 similarly trained parrots, and he was not alone in this case either: Four men and two other birds were also arrested in the raid.

See the whole story with video here.

Photo of another unhappy victim of Budgie-on-Head Syndrome by Flickr user Lodigs.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Baaaad behavior

I could post today about the escaped monkey that trapped a woman in her garage in San Antonio, but I wouldn't want readers to get the idea that monkeys and dogs are all we have to worry about. For example, you don't want to let your guard down around sheep. You may think they're cute and wooly, but ask the couple in England who came home after a ram crashed through their home's glass patio door:

The ram was unharmed but left a trial of destruction in its wake. Paula Smith and her husband Ed thought their home had been raided by burglars when they returned from a walk.

Mr Smith was reporting the break-in to the police when Paula's uncle phoned to explain.

Mrs Smith, who runs a livery, said: "We saw all the glass and all the mess and we were very scared.

"For about 15 minutes I was racking my brain wondering if I'd upset anyone for them to do this, while my husband was on the phone to the police reporting it.

"As he was doing that, my mobile rang and it was my uncle saying the farmer was trying to get in touch."

It's estimated that the damage will cost thousands of pounds to repair. Mrs Smith goes on to describe the details:

"The whole house stank because of the muck it left behind and I've had to throw out the rug in the living room.

"The carpets have to be replaced, because we can't get the stains out, half of the range cooker we can't use because the door's wrecked and the hob doesn't work. The patio door can't be replaced for another month.

"We've had to board it up but because it's been raining. It's damp and that smells now too.

"It's going to be a big job to sort out because the walls will need replastering because of the way the door was damaged."

And don't think this is an isolated incident:

Tim Price, of NFU Mutual, which is handling the insurance claim over the incident on August 29, said: "At this time of year, when sheep are coming into season, it is quite common for rams to see their reflection in something shiny, think it's a competitor, then attack it.

"Cars are more often affected if they are parked by fields or in moorland. Rams will see their reflection in a mirror or a hub cab and start fighting and owners will come back to a lot of dents."

Sure sounds like he is awfully familiar with the extent of the sheep-rampage problem, and who would know better than an insurance agent?

Frighteningly close sheep by Flickr user Brenda Anderson.